PHILIPPINES: Overt surveillance on a religious group assisting farmers in Mindanao

On 30 September 2013, Sr. Ma. Famita N. Somogod, Sub-Regional Coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Northern Mindanao (RMP-NMR), was visited by a certain ‘Francis’ at her office who introduced himself as a staff member of Australian Aid or AusAID.

‘Francis’ discussed about the ‘work’ of AusAID, and Sr. Somogod and two of her staff told him about their work and the current areas in which they are doing interventions.

According to Sister Famita, she was suspicious and did not entertain ‘Francis.’ She wondered why a donor agency, without following any protocol, would come into our office without informing anyone of his visit?

RMP-NMR immediately wrote to AusAID to verified Francis’ credentials.

On 7 October 2013, Rebecca Ongtangco, Head of Finance and Risk Manager of AusAID Philippines said, “Please be informed that AusAID does not have any employee named ‘Francis’ or anyone who was authorized to contact RMP-NMR office.”

“Rest assured that we shall investigate this matter by contacting our Mindanao-based implementing partners who may be able to shed light on this concern,” added Ongtangco in her e-mail reply.

In another email sent to RMP-NMR, Ongtangco said their verification with their Mindanao based implementing partners on whether or not any of their staff contacted the RMP- NMR office on 30 September 2013 resulted in a negative response.

The latest incident strengthened RMP-NMR’s belief that they are being targeted because of their human rights work for the rural poor.

In February 2013, Kenneth Flloyd Navarro, Projects Officer of RMP-NMR was tailed on several occasions. He feared for his life, and went into hiding. He has been dislocated from his work, and has yet to resurface.

Long-time RMP-NMR lay co-worker Joel Q. Yagao, was filed with murder charges, and was arrested on 9 September 2013. Yagao has been responsible for sound agrarian campaigns in Misamis Oriental. He is now being detained at the Gingoog City jail.

Sr. Famita said their group believes that the state security forces are carrying out this surveillance and harassment in order to hinder them from going to rural areas and reporting about the degenerating human rights situation of the village folk brought by militarization.